The autumn leaves fall.

In their fire a life breathes,

And unveils their lies.

The carefully thought out letters on the parchment ring in the new season of damp air and fire in the trees. They passionately burn against the deep blue of the daytime sky and illuminate it greater than the sun ever will every hour of the morning. A gentle hand wipes remnants of pollen dusting in the breeze as it continues on to the next set of text.

The sounds of autumn

Mislead my vision as well

You reign in my sin.

The hand’s owner sighs deeply as he finishes the last character of the haiku, brushing back a loose strand of his crimson hair. He gazes down focused on the stretched parchment with his sad, chestnut eyes, but his youthful face shows no sign of age nor stress. Resting his chin on his palms, he looks out the window, dazed as his eyes follow the swaying of the trees in the morning wind. After a long stretch and yawn, he gets up, exhaling deeply. “Okay, time for a walk. I have been indoors long enough this morning.”

Parasol in hand, the boy slides the shoji[i] door open to step outside his quiet room, hoping to catch a good breath of fresh air and stimulate his senses for the rest of his writing. He walks down the steep wooden steps of the lifted house, passing through his back garden. It is small in size but impressive in view, with shidarezakura[ii] trees now raining down leaves of a striking scarlet, accompanied by rengyou[iii] petals, making his surroundings also seem to be aflame. Stopping to bow and greet his flowers, he smiles warmly. “You are so tough to have been braving the incoming, harsh cold, little ones. Bloom as long as your might can hold out, while the fire of autumn shines strong and true. I will be back.”

The boy’s geta[iv] crunch under the uneven gravel path, but he hums happily as he walks, reflecting the mid-morning sunlight off his white parasol. He almost appears to be dancing down the path, the red of his haori[v] sways gracefully as he steps forward each time, while his deep green hakama[vi] keeps him rooted to the earth.

“A dry wintry wind was breezing, a dry leaf was fluttering, waiting for the day when we would come across one another…we went through our times.”

The boy skips in rhythm to his voice, which rings loud and clear in the distilled silence of the dewdrop morning. Though he never ever raised his voice throughout his life, he feels free and spirited when he does this every morning. This is a time he isn’t disturbed by his work, feeling every ounce of his spirit ease with the coming of a new day.

The boy comes across the usual fork in the road, but instead of going into town as is his routine, he takes the path to his left, a little more bumpy than the other, but he was told it leads to an undisturbed patch of trees close to the shallow water.

“Well…if you do not enter the tiger’s cave, you will not catch its cub…”

He looks left and right to make sure no one is around nor will follow him down the possibly risky path, and he ventures forth. The gravel cracks loudly under his sandals, but he persists.

As he gets deeper into the brush, the branches tug at his kimono, and the boy grows frantic as he does not want the precious garments to tear. He pushes as carefully as he can, but his pace in his worried frenzy quickens, crackling every shrub of tree leaf and grass going through.

Suddenly, as he is about to jump in fright, the tall grass makes an abrupt stop, leaving the boy tripping into an empty patch of grass, illuminated by a single oval open from the overhanging willows. The boy looks around in awe, breathless of what his vision takes in. The willows rain down vermillion and shroud the small meadow in a warm light, which reflects off the boy’s own crimson hair. Unable to contain himself, the boy bursts into song once more: “A leaf turned red and flew up by the wind in a moment; it fell into the hand and told…”

“…what are you trying to do with your small hands…?”

The boy jumps, cutting off his note as a strange voice and hand caresses his own gently from behind. With an energetic muse, the stranger smiles and sings a note of his own: “Led by the leaf’s hand, the wind ran off…even there it was no time to feel fear for the unknown future…”

What a strange person…about my age as well, the boy thinks as he looks the stranger in the eyes. Although he was startled greatly, and knows he should not associate with someone whose intentions are unknown, the stranger’s deep, green eyes soften honestly, looking directly back at him. His narrow face is shaped by the tussled orange nest of hair tied messily back into a ponytail, with the short layers of hair sticking out in random directions. He wears a dingy orange haori coat and olive kimono underneath, worn with some spots looking to need repairs. At his hips on the right side rested a katana[vii], its sheath an onyx black that clearly reflected the musty blue of the sky.

Despite his vagrant appearance, the orange stranger’s voice rings as confident and smooth as the boy’s. In fact, one could almost hear the birds flutter in and chime along with his clever muse.

“You’ve been quiet there. Did I scare ya?”

The boy does not answer; he can’t understand the stranger’s dialect very well—his words sound jumbled. A tickling feeling resonates when he considers not responding, so instead, he does what he was conditioned to do: recite a haiku.

I go by Suou[viii]
How beautiful they must look
My body taints them

“Suou? Hehe, what a pretty surname for a guy. So looks like I have to respond like you…”

The stranger grins widely, and purses his lips as he contemplates a response. Suou leans in towards his face to inspect, and the stranger’s lips move in perfect harmony to recite:

What poison ails you?
I see the pink blossoms bloom
And this hand sows it.

As the stranger finishes his sentence, he leans down and gently takes the boy’s hand to his soft lips. The boy’s face flushes as bright as his red hair, blending the end of his bangs and beginning of his face.

Please do not tempt me
We have only just met, friend,
I desire none.

The orange-haired stranger looks upon the boy with a sad glaze of green eyes once more, softly caressing his face.

“Suou…I’ve heard your name. Passing through town. Officers talk big and reveal what they’ve been doing in their free time. ‘Supposed to be the favorite, huh? From the sound of it, that suspicious house[ix], I don’t think it has a good reputation…am I wrong?”

The boy’s lips quiver, unable to generate the words to respond to the stranger’s observation.

He knows.

And then there was warmth. Warmth in the cool autumn breeze, approaching the merciless winter. In the hands of the boy clad crimson red, there was warmth. Where did it come from…?

The boy’s lips do not quiver. They remain still, and moist, and warm. Overtaken by the intimacy of the stranger’s lips that oh so gently sang his lyrical verse and recited the haiku, the boy’s body throbs with the tickling wind that brushes his skin, the ecstasy of that very moment. A person who knows nothing about him paid their fullest attention to his soul and being, and his body was secondary.

I bore my scars then

Naked and exposed, how sad

Autumn is honest.

[i] Shoji is a Japanese door, window, or room divider made of translucent paper over a frame of wood. It conserves space that would normally require a swinging door

[ii] Shidarezakura is a weeping tree with impressive pink and gaudy flowers in the spring, but weeping red and orange leaves in the fall. Not common in traditional gardens

[iii] A weeping shrub. The petals are yellow with a deeply four-lobed corolla, In full bloom, it is very showy. It is able to live in severe environments.

[iv] Geta are a wooden sandal worn with traditional kimono, yukata, etc. They are elevated and prevent dirt from being kicked onto the garment.

[v] Haori is the overcoat usually worn by men in Japan. It looks like a hip-length or thigh-length kimono. It does not close like a kimono and instead is held open by a loose string connected to each side of the lapel bands

[vi] Hakama are long, pleated, loose pants, and are usually worn by men, though women have worn them as well. They are very loose and only fitted by the long drawstrings wrapped twice around the waistline.

[vii] A standard Japanese sword.

[viii] “Suou” can also be read as 朱桜,the kanji for suzakura, one of the species of cherry blossom. When Suou recites this, he uses double meaning – he is both introducing himself, and saying he literally walks by the trees on his every day strolls. “I go by Suou/suzakura.”

[ix] The stranger makes a reference to the prostitution house in town, supposedly Suou is one of the favorites to be picked for intimate and sexual pleasure because of his pretty face and fragile body.

 

Alexandra Boodram’s story “The Voice of Autumn” won first prize in Fourth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Alexandra is a freshman Cartooning major. “My story emerged from my current passion for traditional Japan,” Alexandra says. “I’m excited to try my hand at more short pieces from the same era.”